MMORPG Gamers and Social Media Junkies More Alike Than You’d Think

Gedeeld door Jemimus

I definitely recognize the gaming element in social networking. I don’t think I would really map it feature-to-feature, but there are certainly parallels that keep me up all hours with this kind stuff.

world-of-warcraftThere are two major pursuits that lead people to plant their butts in front of computer screens and pound on keyboards for hours without pay. One group of people loves social media in all forms, shapes, and sizes: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, FriendFeed, blogging, etc. The other group loves to play around in massively multiplayer fantasy worlds based in magic and technology. These two groups are more alike than unlike, with one key difference. The second group usually realizes that they are playing a game; the first group usually doesn’t.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are a popular pastime where people immerse themselves in fantasy worlds. Players spend many hours in games like World of Warcraft (WoW), amassing gold, experience, and property while making an uber-powerful character. Other online games like Everquest, Entropia Universe, and EVE Online project the same allure as WoW, while simpler brethren like Kingdom of Loathing, Gothador, and Adventure Quest have their own loyal players. This isn’t a new phenomenon either: MUDs (Multi-User Dimensions) and MOOs (MUD Object Oriented), earlier forms of online games with a heavy reliance on text have been around since the late 1970’s.

It’s pretty clear that you’re in a different world when you’re playing a MMORPG. You can explore that world on your own, but it’s often profitable to partner with other players to help beat down your foes and become stronger. Sometimes your foes are just products of the game. In other cases you battle other players like yourself in order earn wealth, fame, and bragging rights.

Do you see some parallels with social media?

avatarsSocial media sites are normally grounded in reality (The Sims and Second Life straddle both pursuits), but everyone’s playing a character when they join these communities. Most of the time people try to be themselves, but they may use an alias or avatar to represent themselves. Goal attainment can be a big part of social media as it is part of MMORPGs. Socialization and communities flourish, in different forms, in games and social media.

Let’s compare these two pursuits:

Friends/Contacts vs. Allies – some social media users have army-size followings. A number of social media users have attracted thousands of followers, particularly on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed. Similarly, MMORPG players try to build alliances with some of their fellow players. The more famous players may gain followings similar in size to Twitter followings. They’re fan clubs by other names. The likelihood of direct interaction with someone with that many followers: minute, unless you already have some kind of connection to them.

Stats and Skills/Experience – MMORPG players want to make their characters stronger, smarter, tougher, and faster, so they play often to gain skills, while using equipment and performance enhancing stuff to make themselves even stronger. The social media user works on increasing comparable stats. If they are a blogger, they want to increase page views, subscribers, comments, and inbound links. They want to get recommendations and endorsements, get added to blogrolls, or otherwise gain social proof. Followers in social networking is another statistic that seems to show one’s strength.

Quests/Deeds vs. Accomplishments – games often require characters to complete a series of tasks in order to win some prize, e.g. go kill fifty goblins to get a pouch of gold, a potion, and a new sword. Similarly, social media users may participate in contests to win social credibility by doing things like:

* Hitting the front page of social news and bookmarking sites
* Winning awards from peers or authority figures
* Compete against other social media users for recognition

Property/Territory vs. Publications – some people like to personalize their stomping grounds in MMORPGs to show ownership. They buy land, put dwellings up, and add distinctive furnishings. Similarly, websites, books, eBooks, articles, online courses, consulting gigs, and more are the ways that social media users can make a more lasting mark on the Web.

Entrepreneurism – both MMORPG players and social media experts can sell their skills to help other users with their goals. They often bend the rules while doing this, but there’s as much a market for getting uber-skilled characters and MMORPG wealth as there is to getting Digg front pages and high exposure in other social news and bookmarking sites. Gamers sometimes sell their characters and equipment at a profit while some people sell blogs, websites, and applications to make money.

You might think that these are superficial comparisons that cast both pursuits in negative lights. That’s quite understandable, because I’ve focused on the selfish and materialistic aspects of these games. Both MMORPGs and social media sites do have a number of positive characteristics that they share.

Both pursuits have a social component. They allow people from different cities, countries, ethnic backgrounds, and other demographic categories to interact. You learn a lot by interacting with people, even if it’s over the Web. Good friendships have been made through both pursuits, sometimes culminating in real-life friendships and romantic relationships whether it’s via Facebook, Twitter, or a Ning group – the same can happen in games. Both games and social media sites also allow us to maintain existing relationships when friends move away. Social media sites have a professional networking and career building component. I can’t say for certain that MMORPGs have the same, but who knows? You can also use both types of applications to explore worlds, real or imagined, as a way to satisfy creative, recreational, and social needs.

The bottom line is that MMORPGs and social media site are far more alike than unalike. They can both be used for serious pursuits, but they have a huge recreational component. When taken to competitive extremes, the pursuit of social media goals and MMORPG character power can have damaging effects on the user’s personal life. Moderation is a key survival skill. In both pursuits, if things get too intense or obsessive, it’s best to remember that they are mostly recreational pursuits.

In other words, don’t forget that they are just games.

Mark Dykeman is a former Everquest, Entropia Universe, Kingdom of Loathing, and Gothador player who (mostly) switched his addictions to social media. You can find him building up his social media character at Broadcasting Brain, on Twitter, and at FriendFeed.

Related Articles at Mashable! – The Social Networking Blog:

Save the Date – Social Gaming Summit: June 13, 2008
GamerDNA Platform Launch: Profile Aggregator for Gamers?
GameStrata Launches Online Gaming Community: 250 Invites for Readers
Disney to Launch Social Network for Nintendo Gamers
New GameSpot Application for Facebook
Greystripe iPhone 3G API Lets Game Developers Earn Ad Revenue
Be a Digg Rockstar with Social Media Firefox Extension

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